HISTORIES OF FILM THEORIES IN EAST ASIA September 27-30, 2012 University of Michigan, Ann Arbor Coordinated by A. M. Nornes.

http://filmtheories.org/upcoming-conference-film-theory-in-korea-japan-and-sinophone-asia-university-of-michigan-2012/

(Abstracts related to Film Studies in Japan) (2)

Hani Susumu’s Theory of Performance and the Place for Staged Liberation
Justin Jesty, University of Washington
I would like to introduce the film theory and practice of Hani Susumu, a pioneer of non-scripted, observational filmmaking. I will attend to the development of his theory, including the influence of pragmatic psychology and progressive pedagogy, paying special attention to his theory of performance. Hani saw performance as an ongoing experimental process of generating “hypothetical forms” that formed the basis of all human and animal being in the world. Contrasted to habitual action, performance was a mode of full engagement with the present as an “already living moment.” This idea was central to Hani’s belief in the ever-present possibility of individual and social change, and his idea that film was unique in its ability to capture the instability of the unfolding performance in its full dynamism and density. Hani’s documentaries about children and young adults show how he put these ideas into practice. Looking at his semi-documentary Bad Boys (Furyō shōnen, 1960), I consider the seeming paradox of needing to create a fictional space for acting to return to its full potential as a force for change. Finally I consider the connections between Hani’s theory and other reformist performance projects such as Shakespeare Behind Bars.

Cinematic Dispositif in Postwar Japan: Hani Susumu and Iwanami Productions –Theorization of Cinema as Event and Experience
Takuya Tsunoda, Yale University
This presentation centers on the analysis of the theorization of cinematic experience by examining the filmmaker Hani Susumu’s writings from the late 1950s and early 1970s. Emphasizing the aspect of the filming subject as “human” rather than “documentarist,” Hani suggests that the experience of cinema, in which distinct subjectivities (both on the screen and in the auditorium) pull one another into an affective circuit, is indeed capable of epitomizing the unique qualities of experiential awareness of a human. Drawing on the filmic/cross-medial engagement of the Japanese film company Iwanami Productions (Iwanami Eiga Seisakusho, est. 1950) in which Hani spent the crucial period of his career, this paper also intends to trace the cinematic endeavors of Iwanami directors who strive to engage with the film-theoretical practices that determined the subjectivity of participation inherent in the film viewing experience in order to grope for the role of the cinema in society at the time. As Hani identified cinematic experience with “experience of the world” as a progressive, participatory and synthetic process of interaction that the subjects go through, I argue that Iwanami Productions – through filmmaking as well as its alliance with other media practices – envisaged historically specific “cinematic dispositif.”

Early development of film and media studies in Japan
Kukhee Choo, Tulane University
Film and media studies in many Asian countries have often been analyzed through the framework of Western scholarship onto Asian media texts and productions. However, in the case of Japan, which already saw an emergence of domestic scholarship on popular media during the early 20th century, the history of media studies took a unique turn. Starting with research on the grassroots media industries of the late 19th and early 20th century, led by scholars involved in the Meiji Bunka Kenkyūkai (Meiji Culture Research Group established by Yoshino Sakuzō), and later economists and sociologists such as Takano Iwasaburo and Gonda Yasunosuke, Japan’s media studies firmly established itself, almost simultaneously with German’s Frankfurt School, to further the understanding of indigenous film and media culture. This presentation will map out the trajectory of how early media studies developed in modern Japan and how the postwar condition progressed into a bifurcated twist between the European theoretical frameworks and the bureaucratic academic institutionalization introduced by the North American system. Japan’s case study provides an alternative to the dominant Western media discourses which has often ignored the local developments.

Film Theory in Translation: The Pure Film Movement and Japanese Film Style
Laura Lee, University of Chicago
This paper explores the significance of western theoretical texts (Sargent, Lindsay, Freeburg, Lescarboura) to the Pure Film Movement. The translation of western “film theory” was critical to film reformers’ conceptions of a modern, pure Japanese cinema: namely one whose visual and narrative registers worked together in synergistic fashion. These foreign writers conceived of cinematic magic, and the effects that made it possible, as key to the medium’s artistic beauty and therefore responsible for elevating its status to make it compatible with bourgeois taste, to make a popular but poetic cinema. Although this cinematic philosophy of uplift was not actually put into practice in Hollywood cinema, dependence on the ideas in these primarily American texts contextualizes Pure Film reformers’ engagement with film language, which combined the Hollywood drive toward classical narrative style with European cinema’s more poetic, avant-garde disposition. In this way, the importation of foreign ideas about cinema conditioned local views about the medium, generating a dual impulse toward a transparent, illusory film world and toward a mediated onscreen spectacle, thereby embodying the tensions between the pleasures of cinematic narration and the pleasures of the visible apparatus that characterize Japanese cinema into the 1920s and 1930s.

Film Theory on the Ground: Tsurumi Shunsuke and the Postwar Discourse on Mass Culture in Japan
Junko Yamazaki, University of Chicago
While there has been increasing interest among film scholars in the important role the journal Shiso no kagaku kenkyukai played in shaping the postwar discourse on mass culture in general, and popular cinema in particular, little reflection has been given to the issue raised by the group regarding the question of what counts as film theory. I will argue that ‘the everyday life philosophy’ of Tsurumi Shunsuke and his colleagues offers a conception of theory that is produced and presented in horizontal networks of circulation and lateral movement of resources and information rather than theory that is imagined as a vertical perspective from which theorists contemplate the world in a totalizing way. In his critique of idealism which he identifies as a philosophical model for, as well as a symptom of, Japan’s rapid modernization, Tsurumi turned to popular cinema in general, jidaigeki in particular, what Hanada Kiyoteru called “the films that speak of reality according to a totally different system of terminology.” Tsurumi regards these films as ‘embedded’ knowledge of the world to which his ‘embodied’ knowledge of the idioms and reading habits he acquired from kodan and manga in his childhood past, once thought to be displaced by academic idioms he acquired in the later periods of his life, provide a route. Furthermore, it was this type of ‘theory’ that fueled aesthetic experiments of the postwar Japanese avant-garde artists and their advocates who turn to cinema, as much as, if not more than, philosophical approaches to film aesthetics.

Early Film Music Theory in Japan:  Nakane Hiroshi’s Tōkī ongakuron
Kerim Yasar, Princeton University
Early theories of sound film had to address not only the presence of the spoken word but also the possibilities and perils of diegetic and extra-diegetic music. In this paper I explore the work of Nakane Hiroshi (? – 1951), whose 1932 Tōkī ongakuron (Theory of Music for the Talkies, a book-length collection of essays and analyses) was one of the first extended engagements with film music theory in Japanese. Highly regarded by Tōhō co-founder Mori Iwao (who wrote the preface to the book and was an important sound-film theorist in his own right), Nakane had previously been a musician and member of the Ongaku to bungaku (Music and Literature) coterie magazine. Although writing from a musician’s perspective, Nakane had an acute sense of the need for music especially composed to accompany the moving image, and analyzed concrete examples in thirteen films, including Sternberg’s Morocco, Clair’s Under the Roofs of Paris, and Pabst’s The 3 Penny Opera. I situate Nakane’s approach in two contexts: Japanese and Western debates during the period about film music, and earlier theories of the role of music in radio drama. I also assess Nakane’s influence on subsequent theorists as well as on scoring practices.

Cinema and Mechanization: Staging R.U.R. (Rossum’s Universal Robots) in Japan
Diane Wei Lewis, Harvard University
From genre classifications and narrative structures, to the many actors and directors who came from the kabuki and shingeki worlds, the close relationship between prewar Japanese film and theater is usually conceived in terms of the influence of theater on film. Less attention has been paid to the impact of cinema on stage practices, even though the famous European and Soviet experiments with film projection in avant-garde scenography were also enthusiastically received, and attempted, in Japan. At Tsukiji Shogekijo, film projection was used as a scenographic attraction on the model of productions by Meyerhold and Piscator, discussed in their coterie journal as one component in a new, synthetic, mechanical arts. The Tsukiji Shogekijo production of R.U.R. by Karel Čapek, a sci-fi play in which a robot underclass rises up against human masters, incorporated film projection and generated comparisons between theater and film according to its thematics of man versus machine. Using this production as a departure point, this presentation will examine how film was theorized and applied by stage practitioners as one element of an intermedial machine aesthetics that reflected an increasingly mechanized society. It also examines the thematic of machine-like bodies across 1920s film acting theory, avant-garde theater, and sci-fi.

The Neglected Tradition of Phenomenology in Japanese Film Theory
Naoki Yamamoto, Yale University
This paper examines the rise of a phenomenological approach to the film experience in the context of Japanese film theory. Having said that, my focus does not revolve around the work of postwar film critics such as Asanuma Keiji and Hara Masataka, who developed their writings under the influence of French phenomenologists such as Gilbert Cohen-Seat, André Bazin, and Maurice Merleau-Ponty. Rather, I aim to provide a comparative reading of the long-neglected two Japanese theorists—Sugiyama Heiichi and Nagae Michitarō—who, in the early 1940s, tried to answer the question “What is cinema?,” by prioritizing the significance of their own act of viewing, their own experiences with the world as it is lived on and through the screen. By closely looking at the cultural conditions surrounding wartime Japanese film discourse, this paper clarifies how Sugiyama and Nagae elaborated on their theories through their extensive knowledge about Bergsonian philosophy and German phenomenology, as in the case of their French counterparts. But it also highlights the substantial differences between Japanese and French phenomenologists, focusing on the former’s strategic use of phenomenology as a practical means to shy away from ideological charges of the nationalist discourse of wartime Japan.

Intāmedia: Early Developments in the Theorization of Intermediality in Japan
Julian Ross, University of Leeds
Intermediality as a theoretical framework has experienced a resurgence of interest in art historical research in the past few years. Cinema, despite its commonly recognized trait for being a meeting point between the arts, has only very recently seen publications devoted entirely to its relationship with intermedia (Pethő: 2011). Furthermore, we are also in danger of positioning intermedia as a Euro-American privilege in spite of the wide spectrum of global artistic activity that can be canonized as intermedial practice. It seems pertinent now to position case studies from East Asian cinemas, both in their approach and theorizations, within the discourse of intermedial studies. Not only has Japan contributed an array of films relevant to the discussion on intermedia, Japan had also participated in the theorization of intermedia early on in its conception. By 1967, only a year after Dick Higgins coined the term, intermedia was discussed in Japanese art journals. Moreover, the understanding of intermedia in Japan (intāmedia) was deeply embedded in cinema and possibilities regarding technology. This paper will analyze the early developments of intermedia in Japan as a theoretical concept and artistic approach with reference to related theories of sōgō geijutsu in existence prior to the arrival of intermedia.

A Psychoanalytical Undercurrent in Japanese Film Theory
Maureen Turim, University of Florida
In light of much new research on the history of psychoanalysis in Japan, I propose to look at the intersections between Japanese film theory and Japanese psychoanalytic theory.  Three major figures in psychoanalytic theory receiving renewed attention are Kosawa Heisaku, Kitayama Osamu,  and Okonogi Keigo, in addition to Doi Takeo, whose influence on film theory has been the strongest, especially in terms of theories of Japanese melodrama and war films.  That many specifically Japanese psychoanalytic concepts such as the amae complex and the ajase complex concern motherhood and are derived from Japanese folklore, Noh and Kabuki, invites application by Western and Japanese theorists alike, but cautionary notes have been raised by those deconstructing the assumptions inherent in these theories, and I will look at this debate.  The theories have resonance with anime, porn, and the thriller in particular, and may speak to the extreme depictions of sex and violence that permeate Japanese film, while images of innocence and attachment to childlike objects flourish alongside these representations. I will speak to the use of these theories historically, and their presence in Japanese literary and film theory today.

Critical Media Theory and Practices in Japan (1960s-1970s): Matter and Medium, Capital and the Image
Miryam Sas, University of California, Berkeley
This paper will consider methodologically the means to understand the transcultural media critical discourses circulating in Japan across multiple art forms, from photography to visual arts to film in the late 1060s-1970s. Key questions include the relationship of media to “reality,” indexicality and the importance of medium, the modes of theorizing materiality and matter (objects and things) as well as the labor of hands. Examples will be drawn from some of the following: works and writings by Yamaguchi Katsuhiro (known as the “father of media art” in Japan), photographers connected with the influential yet short-lived photography journal Provoke, Mono-ha visual artists’ writings, and landscape theorists among others. In each, a relationship between the logic of capital and the circulation of the image is a major point of analysis, though with varying approaches. Though it would be impossible to outline the theoretical ideas of each completely here, by juxtaposing parallel key issues across these art forms, one gains a sense of the historical trends and primary emphases of critical discourses in this period in Japan, as they draw from and/or distance from contemporaneous art theory and practice in Europe and America.

Trans-media Criticism and the Revolt Against “Landscape” in 1970s Japanese Visual Media
Franz Prichard, Harvard University
In this paper I explore a crucial moment in the transforming stakes of media criticism engaged with diverse forms of citizen and student protest that engulfed the Japanese archipelago in late 1960s and early 1970s. My paper charts photographer and critic Nakahira Takuma’s (b.1938) role in an emergent discourse of “landscape” (fukei-ron) to disclose a vital nexus of exchange between media theory and practice which arose in response to the rapidly urbanizing terrain. Film critic Matsuda Masao’s (b.1933) notion of “landscape” not only impelled Nakahira to reshape his photography, but also fostered a rich dialogue across diverse forms of media. This paper will explore both Matsuda and Nakahira’s turn against the “landscape” and trace the trans-media concerns these provoked through a 1970 panel discussion with Nakahira, artist Akasegawa Genpei, filmmaker and critic Adachi Masao, “Black Tent” theatre director Sato Makoto, and sound artist Tone Yasunao. Thus, traversing and translating these dynamic forms of exchange, this paper demonstrates the ways criticism itself became the site of a shared struggle to put a crack in the “homogenous, sealed up landscape” articulated by nation-state and capital across the rapidly urbanizing social spaces of 1970s Japan.

The Transcriptive Apparatus: Imamura Taihei on Animation and Documentary
Thomas Lamarre, McGill University
The film theory of Imamura Taihei presents a number of concerns that make it worth careful reconsideration today. Although he tends to separate animation and documentary separately in his writings, he made both central to his film theory. As such, animation is not relegated in advance to the realm of fantasy in contrast to the reality of cinema, nor conversely is documentary seen entirely in terms of objectivity in contrast to the subjectivity of fiction. Imamura’s interest in both animation and documentary leads him to ground his film theory in a variation on apparatus theory. Instead of an emphasis on the monocular lens of the camera and regimes of one-point perspective, however, Imamura stresses the descriptive, explanatory, and even narrative force of the camera and photography both in cartoons and documentaries. His is a theory of the ‘transcriptive apparatus.’ While the prescriptive implications and cultural nationalism of Imamura’s approach merit criticism, it was via the apparatus that Imamura tried to make good on his third concern, a Marxist concern to highlight the relation between cinema and capitalism. Imamura thus highlights something that concerns us today: what does it mean to seize an ‘apparatus of transcription’?

Imamura Taihei’s Theory of Japanese Cinema
Rea Amit, Yale University
Imamura Taihei’s writings on film, which are considered among the most pivotal in the establishment of film theory in Japan, are surprisingly yet understudied. This is mainly in terms of Imamura’s thesis of “Cinema and Japanese Art.” While many studies, in Japan and the West, had given much attention to Imamura’s theories of documentary film and animation, and while issues with regard to the nation in world cinema in general, and in Japan in particular, continue to interest scholars, Imamura’s work on Japanese cinematic medium-specificity demands wider recognition. In my paper I intend to, first, introduce Imamura’s thesis, the many different examples he gives for cinematic-like aspects of pre-modern Japanese arts, and the context in which it was written and rewritten between the late 1930s and the mid-1940s. Secondly, I would like to suggest an interpretation of Imamura’s aesthetic essentialism, and to highlight the qualities that separate the thesis from other theories of Japanese cinema. Finally, I will conclude my paper by arguing for the role Imamura’s thesis can have in problematizing the national borders of Japanese cinema on the one hand, and medium-specificity on the other.

Early Japanese Filmmusic: Theoretical Musings about Putting Music to Film
Johan Nordstrom, Waseda University
During the early 1930s, Japanese cinema was in the process of a gradual transition from silent to sound film. In parallel with the emergence of sound into the cinematic landscape, new theories of how best to utilize this innovative technology gave birth to a new genre of light entertainment, infused with music and song, and often sharing traits of musical style, staging, and pacing with that of the urban variety stage. These new kind of films where spearheaded by Japan’s first all-talkie film studio, the Tokyo-based P.C.L. (Photo Chemical Laboratory). This paper will examine the contemporary discourses conducted in trade journals and newspapers between filmmakers, such as for instance Heinosuke Gosho, producers and film writers such as Mori Iwao, and the composers actually responsible for creating the music. By closely examining the ideas and approaches that were advanced by these different agents within the industry, this presentation aims to shed light on the attitudes and reasoning that shaped early decisions about ways to marry music to the moving pictures in Japan during the first half of the 1930s.

Haiku and Montage 2.0: Terada Torahiko’s Writings on Linked Poetry and Cinematic Montage”
William O. Gardner, Swarthmore College
In “The Cinematic Principle and the Ideogram” (1929), Sergei Eisenstein (1898 – 1948) cited two staples of Orientalist inquiry, the Chinese character or “ideogram” and the Japanese haiku, as illustrations of the principles of montage. My paper will examine Japanese authors who responded to Eisenstein and offered their own views of the relationship between cinematic montage and Japanese poetic language, beginning with physicist, essayist, and haiku poet Terada Torahiko (1878 – 1935) and his essay “Eiga geijutsu” (“Film art,”1932). While expressing reservations about Eisenstein’s application of “ideogram” and “haiku,” Terada redirected his inquiry towards the form of renku or linked poetry, from which the haiku form derived. I will examine Terada’s views on the relationship between montage and the techniques and aesthetics of linked poetry as developed in the circle of Matsuo Bashô (1644 – 1694), showing how, even as they extended Eisenstein’s theoretical inquiry into a productive new area, they also contributed to a new, modern construction of the literary category of renku. Finally, I will compare this aspect of Terada’s film theory with other contemporary explorations of the relationship between montage and poetry, include those of poet and film critic Kitagawa Fuyuhiko (1900-1990) and documentary filmmaker Kamei Fumio (1908-1987).

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